How to support a roommate with mental health challenges

Many UNC students are struggling with stress, anxiety, and mental illness. Mental health concerns can make it even harder to manage the already significant challenges of being a Tar Heel.

As a roommate, you are in a unique position. You will likely have intimate knowledge of your roommate’s behavior and wellbeing, and you can be an important support system for this person you live with and care about. It is also important to take care of yourself and set boundaries while you support others. It’s a balancing act!

Together we can create a culture of care at UNC.

  1. Be considerate. Being a good roommate means being considerate of each other’s needs. This remains true when your roommate has anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, trauma history, or any type of mental illness.
  2. Communicate. Everyone’s experiences with mental health are unique – so step one is to communicate openly and kindly.
  3. Respect their privacy. Your living situation should feel like a safe place for you and your roommates to be authentic. The conversations and experiences that happen in your living situation should stay within your living situation. The only exception to this is when you’re worried about your roommate hurting themselves or others.
  4. Show you care. Ideas could include: make them dinner, pick up a shared living space, leave them a kind note, ask them to hang out, schedule time to do something they enjoy.
  5. Ask how to help. Find the right time to talk, one when they are well-rested, aren’t hangry, and generally seem like they are in a good place – and ask how you can support them when they are struggling. Some folks may have more trouble asking for what they need than others – so come to the conversation with ideas for suggestions.
  6. Encourage their wellbeing. Things that we know help wellbeing include a connection (that can be with you, and you can encourage them to reach out to more folks who care about them or a mental health pro), time outside, good sleep, nourishing food, body movement, activities that result in creativity and joy. Encourage them to do these activities. Even better, invite them to do them with you!
  7. Take care of yourself as well. Don’t take your roommate’s behavior personally – often their behavior will have little to do with you. Consider what you need to be successful and well. Sometimes it may mean being spending time away from your shared space. Sometimes it may mean meeting your needs first and then supporting your roommate. Take some time to check in with yourself on your capacity to help.
  8. Watch for worrisome changes. If you notice changes in mood, behavior, performance, appearance, or outlook that make you worried, talk about it. You can reach out to CAPS 24/7 to consult with professionals for the best way to support your friend by calling 919-966-3658. You can also talk to your roommate directly about what you’re noticing. Expressing your concern to them and encouraging them to seek help may be the first step in their healing. Focus on the specifics that are causing you concern. Listen and avoid judgment. If your roommate expresses a desire to hurt or kill themselves, seek help immediately.

If you are concerned about immediate safety

24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

Call   911

Come into CAPS or call  919-966-3658 

Contact the Dean of Students at   919-966-4042

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline   1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line Text START to 741-741

Thank you to our reader who suggested this blog topic! You can suggest blog topics as well – we love it when you do!

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